Third reading of Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act

Hon. Art Eggleton:

Honourable senators, I rise to speak also on Bill C-52. Senator Plett has outlined in great detail what this legislation is intended to do, and a lot of the words in there are “could,” “may” or “the minister might” and this kind of language, but what he says is only as good as its implementation. Indeed, it’s only as good as the capacity and resources that are provided to ensure rail safety.

In that connection, the government doesn’t have a very good record. Are we just getting words, or are we going to actually get real rail safety? The Auditor General — remember him? — in his report two years ago said that they had done only a quarter of the safety inspections they were supposed to do — a quarter. In light of what happened with Lac-Mégantic, this is just not adequate.

In fact, in terms of VIA Rail — I realize we’re talking about transport of goods here — but in terms of VIA Rail, which has over 4 million passengers a year, no inspections — none whatsoever — were conducted. On top of that, the Auditor General said that the safety audits that were conducted were inadequate. In fact, the training and the skills of the inspectors were also deficient.

On top of that, the minister admitted at the time that she’d hired only one additional inspector since the Lac-Mégantic disaster. Well, that certainly doesn’t show an awful lot of priority on rail safety.

You know what? The most important part of rail safety is not getting to the end and having to collect from the rail companies on the insurance or the compensation fund.

It’s good that they’re going in place, but the real thing that needs to be done is prevention. Imagine if Lac-Mégantic occurred in one of our major urban centres. Look at the loss of life that was there, the cost that was there. Imagine if it had happened in a major centre.

Interestingly enough, I remember one that did happen in a major centre. It happened in Mississauga in 1979. It necessitated the evacuation of some 200,000 people from that municipality. What’s interesting about that is that this bill talks about the provisions of the compensation fund being for crude oil shipment and only crude oil shipment at this point. Yes, they’re going to look at some others, but that Mississauga disaster involved propane and chlorine. They really need to get on it very quickly. The minister did say she was working on it. I hope that’s what’s going to happen and, in fact, they’re going to be able to amend the provision so it covers more than just a disaster that is relevant to crude oil.

Another point that’s worth making is that the budget for her department since the Lac-Mégantic disaster has been cut by some 20 per cent so that now the amount of money that’s devoted to rail safety is $34 million. That’s slightly behind what they put out for the advertising of the Economic Action Plan, so you can see where their priority is in all of that.

Those are the things that are of concern to me, but the bill does have good measures in it, if they are properly implemented and if they are properly resourced. The insurance scheme for the polluter pays is necessary. It’s necessary to up the limits that are involved in it as well to make sure that the rail companies and the shippers are in fact going to absorb much more of the cost and at the same time, the compensation fund, which will be contributed to by shippers, will help provide for additional resources if there is a major disaster.

On that basis and on the assurances of the minister that she is moving very quickly to implement this, I will support and suggest that we support Bill C-52.